Hiking a 14'er in your 60's
Updated: Sep 18
Hiking is great for us. We get our exercise, we are out in nature, our eyes get to visualize the vast landscape. Our heart and muscles come alive and are pushed to limits. But this begs the question of why not pick a shorter hike or something with less elevation? Isn’t it possible to get the same amazing view by just driving to a certain destination? If we take a second to think about all the planning and effort it becomes quite the ordeal. Physiologically speaking it’s elevating your heart rate to a max working capacity for around 4 hours, with of course built in small breaks for food and water and to reduce or add layers of clothing. So why would anyone want to do this? What is the purpose?
I think the one key to living a healthy and happy life is always striving for something more. Creating and finding meaning around us is what inspires us and gives us hope. There are many people who physically are not able to do things that we may be able to do. I think there’s definitely a form of gratitude that is practiced by using your abilities and pushing the boundaries. It’s a way to show that you're not taking your abilities for granted. There’s also the innate desire to accomplish things as a human, especially difficult things. The process of preparation, anticipation, effort and achievement is also a perfect representation of the natural rhythms of life. In simple terms, things mean more to us when we have to earn them. The views are also awe-inspiring. It’s pretty common to get emotional, either summiting your first mountain or even seeing a beautiful landscape after a difficult journey. I’m not religious but the feeling of belonging and being connected is much easier to feel in the presence of a sprawling landscape that pictures or television can’t even begin to do justice.
My family climbed Mt. Bierstadt last weekend. My mom, her two sisters, and my brother and sister all went up as a group. We had our snacks, our water, our camelbacks, glasses,
, extra layers, all the necessary things we were going to need. Because the majority of our party was coming from sea level we did a short acclimatization hike up through Independence Trail at Pence Park the day before. After this hike the team confidence was high ( HAHA) Tomorrow would be much harder, but I most definitely left that part out!
We started our hike at 7:31am in the morning. The weather was cool, calm and we began with a nice brisk pace. I don’t think the weather could have been any better and the beginning of the hike was nice and smooth. The first mile was easy and just great to be bridge hopping in the mountains! We came across the river/rock crossing I had forgot to tell them about. Many of the 14er’s have these types of crossing. It’s a moving river with rocks that are mostly submerged, that we must jump across. There was some apprehension but with a hand from Heather ( my sister) we all made it across safely. We finally reached the start of the ascent. This is where things got real. Once we began the ascent we found out real quickly who was pacing well and what level of oxygen our body could utilize. The group began to stagger quite a bit. Within 45 minutes the whole group had begun to split several hundred feet apart. This is very normal as everyone has their own pace. There were times we waited for each other and rested however once we reached hour 2 ½ of the climb we began to split. I stay behind with my moms sisters who was doing well but was having trouble adjusting to the altitude and whose pace had begun slowing. The rest of the group began to push for the saddle. I finally started to notice the determination begin to set in. This was the point in the hike where there was no turning back. The group was approaching the saddle and I sat with my aunt Diane. We talked about what to do and I was sure I was just going to wait with her. We discussed a few things and I was 100% positive she would not make it to the top yet her absolute best effort. She had done an amazing job and her body had just hit her limit. She demanded I continue on to the group and we would catch up with her on the way down. Typically I would stay with anyone behind but this was such a crowded mountain and I knew she didn’t want me to miss the summit.
I raced ahead and caught up with the whole group at the saddle. Sue, Matt, Heather and my mom. By the time I reached them at the saddle my mom had a knee sleeve on and I saw my sister leading her by the hand, as a support. The last part of Bierstadt was a class 2 boulder section of about 250 feet. This took some decent route finding without the ability to hop from boulder to boulder. At this point the determination was real! Everyone looked to be exhausted and set on making it to the top. Every 10 feet required a break and a moment to catch your breath and find your footing. After 30 minutes of boulder hopping we approached the summit. I pulled out my phone and played the rocky theme to an audience that didn’t have the energy to appreciate that sentiment ( haha) . The view was beautiful and the exhausting journey (for our lungs at least) was over. We sat by a rock that was blocking the wind and soaked in the beautiful view while we took time to hydrate and snack. Some of us were not able to stomach anything and just enjoyed the victory. We of course snapped some amazing photos.
Matt had just about had enough of this trip so he took off and was moving quickly down the mountain. Sue, Heather, my mom and I stayed together for a bit. It wasn’t long before Sue’s entire sole of her hiking shoe fell off. These shoes looked like she had them since 91’. A nice couple passing helped the sole back on with thin rope. Halfway down the mountain Heather and I started to jog. We picked up the pace and were pretty much in a full out jog down the mountain for a solid mile. After finally reaching the trail-head we waited at the front for my mom and Sue to make it. Eventually they came dancing around the corner with big smiles across their faces and we all met back together with Diane, Matt and the rest of the group.
This was an incredible journey for the whole party and I’m so glad I got to witness some first time summiters as well as just a great trip and some beautiful views. So why do this? Eh, Why not? We’re alive, we might as well find something to strive for and to stay connected with the land and distance ourselves from technology. Will they do another one? Who knows but stay tuned!